LA UNION: Immuki Island of Balaoan

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who do not believe in magic will never find it... — Roald Dahl

Still tired from the seemingly endless travels I had for the past months, I was keen on staying at home until the year ends. Whenever someone asks me if I would want to join them climb a mountain or visit some place, I would almost always end up saying “next time” (despite my yearning to go on a climb or go bum around a beach).

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On the last day of the year 2017, I woke up wanting to cap off my year by exploring one more place. So the dilemma was choosing which nearby area to see. I thought of going to Atok (in Benguet) but I was afraid transportation would be a problem since its a holiday, and the town is not frequented by many public vehicles. I even considered doing a Mt. Pigingan climb in nearby Itogon (also in Benguet). However, I have read that a day hike would be quite tiresome.

And then I remember this conversation I had with a friend during the Lantern Parade here in Baguio about a place in La Union that is relatively new to the public eye. It’s called Immuki Island in the coastal town of Balaoan. My mom is from La Union, and I never knew about any island in her province, so I was surprised to learn about this place. I googled to seek more information about the it, and all I was presented with was a short description of the island at Balaoan’s official website. The other website is pretty scary to open because my laptop prompted me that there are some security issues if I continue opening it.

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So, despite the very little information about the place, I made a last minute decision to go and see the island for myself. Without any expectations, I hopped on a Vigan-bound bus and off I went to Elyu. Since it is in the town of Balaoan, automatically, I thought the best jump off would be its town plaza. To which later on, I’d realize, Bacnotan, a neighboring town, is a better jump off.

Upon arrival at the Balaoan town plaza, I asked around how to get to Immuki. I asked a tricycle driver if he could take me there. He first suggested that I go back to Bacnotan town and take a jeepney instead, as it will be cheaper. However, I decided to just take the tricycle, haggle a bit and off we went to Immuki. The road we took was familiar to me since it’s the very same road that goes to Luna town proper. If one intends to visit Balai na Bato, Namacpacan Church, Luna’s baluarte, and even Occalong Falls, it is actually the same route. Though I haven’t visited Darigayos Beach yet, I have learned from this trip that Darigayos is actually near Immuki.

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In about 30 minutes, we arrived at Paraoir’s barangay hall. I asked my tryke driver if he could wait for me since I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get a ride back to the town plaza, but he was very assuring that jeepneys and tricycles ply the area frequently.

So, I did register at the barangay hall. You won’t be asked for any entrance fee nor any fees for that matter. From the barangay hall, just follow the signs that say “Immuki Island.” A narrow path will lead you to the coast, where you will pass by locals who have small stalls, where one can rent slippers and where people can buy some snacks and beverages.

A bit of “Immuki’s history”: Immuki is a word which was derived from the name of a sea creature called sea slugs, that can thrive only on the dead corals. Sea slugs in the local dialect (specifically Pangasinense) is termed “babao” or “bao”. If you translate that into English, it pertains to the female genitalia. And the Ilocano word for female genitalia is “uki’. So it may come across vulgar if you are an Ilocano. However, since then, the word “Immuki” has been associated with the island not only because of these slugs BUT also because of the shape of the main lagoon that resembles like the orifice of a female genital.

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Alright, much of that shocking history (it is to me because I am Ilocano, and that I wish they’d re-name it soon, hahaha). So I made my way to explore the place. There was no love at first sight feeling when I gazed at that piece of scattered land off the shores of mainland Paraoir. For one, it doesn’t look like an island to me. It seems that the place is just coral-like rocks scattered with some mangroves in between. I decided not to go to the central lagoon where most people were headed to. I walked my way to the southern part of the coast. Honestly, I was surprised that the seashore is made up of ivory sand mixed with shells and white pebbles.

From a distance, the rocky shoreline caught my attention. It looks like some of those landscapes I have seen in some parts of Keflavik in Iceland this year. I was drawn to come closer, and I was delighted to see that there were several stream-looking crevices in between these rocky portions. I am not good at choosing what better geophysical terms, but I hope the photos you will get to see in this post would help you out, my readers. Hahaha. The water from the sea goes into these crevices, creating some natural pools that are shallow and are surprisingly clear and inviting. I imagined, if only I can photograph this area from a high place or if only I have a drone, these narrow opening or fissures would look like a “penis” or ‘buto” (that is why, locals would naughtily call this place at times, “Bimmuto Island”.

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My fascination grew as I walk around the place. I was the only one exploring it. I guess that most of the people are having a great time at the main lagoon. There were also some parts that have mangroves (which I hope will grow in number in the coming years). Caution when walking around this area, since the coral rocks are sharp. I decided to walk my way to the main lagoon. (Yes, it is possible to walk your way). As I walk, I passed by more narrow crevices with super clear water to which at this point, I already am very eager to take a dip. Also, the sighting of people became more evident.

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I finally reached the “star of the island” – an emerald/ turquoise crystal clear, saline water that appears to me as a natural pool. It is enclosed by some rocks of varying sizes and a few vegetation. It was a delight to see, and the people swimming seem to be having a great time. I took some more photos before decided to finally make a quick dip as the sun was so scorching. There was even an area where one could go for a dive since the depth is relatively safe for such an activity.

At 3 pm, I decided to go back to the mainland. One may opt to walk (wade through water (it is just knee high), or ride a “balsa” that will cost you, Php10/ person. I also had a quick snack at a local store before hailing a jeepney that goes to San Fernando City. So there.

How to Reach Immuki Island, Brgy. Paraoir, Balaoan, La Union:
1. If you are coming from Manila, or Baguio (or anyplace south of San Fernando City in La Union), you have the following options.
* Drop by San Fernando (La Union), and take a jeepney that is bound for Darigayos, Luna. (just tell the driver to drop you off Brgy. Paraoir). Travel time may take around 45 minutes to an hour. Fare is around Php35.
* You can also drop by Bacnotan town plaza, from there, take a jeep that is bound for Darigayos, Luna or rent a tricycle. Travel time would be around 20-30 minutes.
2. If you are coming from the northern part of La Union or Ilocos, drop by Balaoan town plaza, take a tricycle to Brgy. Paraoir. Travel time is approximately 20-30 minutes. (My tryke driver asked me to pay Php150 one way).

***Please note that there are no resorts within the area. Please BE RESPONSIBLE enough to not throw your trashes. Respect nature and the people you share this place with.

Other places of interest that are near Immuki (in case you want to see more) are the following: Balai nga Bato, Baluarte and Pebble Beach, Darigayos Beach, Occalong Falls, Lady of Namacpacan Church (all in the town of Luna), Tangadan and Kapandagan Falls in San Gabriel, and of course, Urbiz Surfing Town and the new Camp Avenue camping site both in San Juan.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be JUANderlust. Take it easy everyJUAN.

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